Skip to main content

Let the monsters kill each other.

Game of Thrones
Season Seven

(SPOILERS) Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.


Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previous seasons), but there has definitely been a fallout from losing the guiderail of the books; characterisation and incident have become increasingly cursory, at times resembling a shopping list of scenes and encounters that need ticking off, and with that comes a problem the series hasn’t faced before: an unwillingness to suspend disbelief.


This season, people seem to get around the map in no time at all; the once vast and unknowable lands now seem so much smaller and less challenging. Much-anticipated encounters occur without any the expected impact. In some cases, this has been a positive (the various Starks): in others, underwhelming (neither Jon nor Daenerys are portrayed by strong enough actors to achieve much in the way of a spark during one-on-one in scenes, making their carnal attraction distinctly devoid of chemistry and thus leaving only the promise of incest to titillate). In yet others, it all becomes a bit silly, such as 7.6: Beyond the Wall’s travelogue where each character is duly given a “Now it’s my turn” chance to interact with another; the results entirely lack finesse.


Beyond the Wall has been the big sticking point, the one where the confluence of unlikely/ unbelievable events just became a bit too much. Daenerys miraculously flying to the rescue in time on her dragon, Jon arbitrarily acting a tool just to create the conditions for death (a dragon) and rescue (Uncle Benjen). Added to which, Daenerys was convinced remarkably easily that the scheme to capture a wight had merit. I didn’t particularly have a problem with the question of what the Night King would have done if he hadn’t laid his lily-white hands on a dragon (well, it would just have taken a bit longer, wouldn’t it?) but I did find the Benjen-ex machina irritating in the extreme. Bad enough that they did that, worse still that they pulled the old “Ride away while I fend the wights off for absolutely no good reason other than the writers wouldn’t know what to do with me if I stayed”. As for the “Kill the White Walker and his creations all die”, well, I guess if it was good enough for George Lucas in The Phantom Menace


I don’t have many complaints about the contrivance of the Sansa-Anya plot. I mean, that’s the way these devices work. It’s not as if there wasn’t/isn’t a genuine undercurrent and tension between the sisters. And it was just plain satisfying to see Littlefinger finally bow out/bleed out. Part of the problem of his exit, though, is that it further contributes to tapestry becoming so much more streamlined in a show built on intrigue and suspect loyalties. The only real tension in that respect has come from Cersei, and as such, The Dragon and the Wolf’s double-crossing (leading to Jaime riding out) was much needed, as was the more subdued pace in the first half of the episode (it felt as if the show knew how to breathe deeply again).


There are still question marks, such as the ramifications of the revelation regarding Jon, as and when its revealed to all – the scene between Samwell and Bran is another example of chronically indelicate exposition. Samwell rolls up, leaving the Citadel mainly because the plot requires it, and the first person he sees is Bran, leading to a highly deductive conversation. When things seem to unfold too effortlessly, it’s a sure sign the writers are no longer building stories but attempting to juggle the elements so as to make it to the finish line – but mostly what remains feels like a case of how and when rather than nursing the element of surprise.


Sometimes, the now rudimentary writing David Benioff and DB Weiss works to the show’s favour; Euron bolting it because he’s scared shitless immediately seemed like yet another dose of poor characterisation as a means to an end, so to find it was a ruse was at least gratifying. In contrast, the scene of Theon’s miraculous cocklessness seeing him to victory/redemption in a fight on the beach at Dragonstone with someone twice as fierce and twice his size was never less than ridiculous, and one of the weaker instances of plotting/writing/motivation the show has seen. The season has had a few of those, though, including Jon calling Daenerys “Dani” for no explicable reason whatsoever and Brienne exclaiming “Fuck loyalty” because everything she held to be sacrosanct has apparently been shattered at the sight of the undead.


Before Jon and Daenerys got it on, there seemed to be moves in terms of the latter’s budding despotism to suggest she might not be all that (despite being the great white saviour of previous seasons), and it will be a shame if that’s cast aside. About the only interesting aspect of the character is her hubristic assumption of rectitude (the silliness of accusing Jon of pride in not swearing fealty when she is nursing the same sin only goes unnoticed because Snow is a bit thick, like). The consequence of this plotline is that both Tyrion and Varys, formerly two of the show’s best characters, are now reduced to table leavings (the latter has a strong scene in which Daenerys questions his loyalty, but that’s basically it).


But GoT rattled along during these seven episodes, and I was never remotely bored (as I very occasionally have been in the past). No, it’s no longer “prestige” TV, it’s become blockbuster cinema on the small screen, with all the problems and insecurities of plotting, internal logic and motivation that brings. The season has had its gems of scenes (Diana Rigg’s death), but the kind of intimate flourishes that yielded tension through dialogue and thespian showmanship are mostly a thing of the past. Or, when they’re not (Cersei, Tyrion), there’s a sense that you’re only seeing the regurgitation of earlier, better-delivered passages on the same theme.


Can Season Eight regain something of the elegance of past form? I have a feeling, if anything, it will only become more linear. Will Game of Thrones end up regarded in a similar fashion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The X-Files, where the first four or five seasons are held up as an example of greatness before the rot set in? Perhaps that’s the inevitability of a success story, that the makers begin to become too conscious of what they’ve achieved and are no longer so steady on the tiller. Alternatively, just blame Martin for not pulling his finger out and getting the books finished, the lazy bugger.


(Possible SPOILERS for Season Eight - who knows) Inevitably, there’s much speculation about what will transpire during the final furlong, the most bizarre being that Bran will be revealed as the Night King. I guess it could happen… George RR Martin by way of Damon Lindelof. There was a form of time travel with Hodor, after all. Isaac Hempstead Wright doesn’t seem to think so, though. Jamie killing Cersei seems way too obvious, but then I thought Jon and “Dani” getting together seemed way too obvious. Arya killing Cersei would be predictable too, not least because she’s been going on about it forever. I can certainly see Jon having to sacrifice Daenerys (as the Prince Who Was Promise); there’s no way these two get a happy ending together. Of course, you could reverse those roles (although, Jon dying again?) I can also see the increasingly uncomfortable Tyrion parting ways with his queen (but having him revealed as another Targaryen feels a little too fan service-y). One thing ought to be odds-on, though. Unless the Weiss and Beniof have got cold feet, since that element was definitely in short supply in Seven, lots of cherished people will die.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…